Lister tossed on his bunk and covered his ears, wrapping the pillow ever more closely around his head until its "guaranteed-always-fluffy-never-moldy" polyhybrid fiber (a claim that was only partially true, as he had discovered after a particularly regrettable late-night curry-eating session) was practically choking him.
Unfortunately, the lack of air in his lungs did not equal a lack of sound in his ears. He could still hear the Hammond organ music quite clearly.
Hammond organ music. Vibrating through the walls. Pounding through his skull. His slightly-moldy-pillow-wrapped skull. That is, his skull that was wrapped by a slightly-moldy pillow, not his slightly-moldy skull wrapped by an un-moldy pillow, and could a skull be slightly moldy anyway, and why in the world was he thinking these thoughts?
Giving up, he unwrapped the pillow from his perfectly un-moldy head (no, really, despite what the Cat had said yesterday) and threw it aside, then got up and headed to Starbug's common room. As he had feared, he and Rimmer were not the only two still awake.
"Someone has to do something about Nostril-Flare-Head!" yelled the Cat when Lister entered. "I know it doesn't matter for you, but I need my beauty sleep! Just look at these wrinkles" -- and he pointed down at his fuchsia-colored silk pajamas. "When I toss and turn, it completely ruins their style!"
"It's been going on for 47 hours now," said Kryten. "One more hour, and according to the terms of my warranty I'll have to do a full diagnostic check on these ears. And what am I supposed to do if they've been damaged? Do you know how hard it is to get a trade-in for a new pair of ears?"
"Forget the ears," said the Cat. "If I were you, I'd get a trade-in for the whole head."
Kryten turned and gestured down the corridor towards the source of the Hammond organ music, still going strong. "I'm sorry, Mr. Lister sir, but my patience circuits can't handle the load any longer. He has to be stopped."
"I know," said Lister, and then he sighed. "It's just that Rimmer's really been enjoying himself for once. Since we found that back-up disk containing some of Holly's old data files, he can finally listen to the music he hasn't had access to ever since we lost Red Dwarf."
"It's nice that he got back his music collection. Now can he get a sense of hearing to go with it?" asked the Cat. "'Cause there's no way he could really like that stuff if he could hear it properly."
"All right, I'll go talk to him." Lister made to leave, but then he was stopped by Kryten.
"Actually, sir, the Cat has an interesting point. There is a way to give Mr. Rimmer a sense of hearing."
"What?" Lister stared at the mechanoid. "What do you mean? He's already able to hear things."
"Not based on the evidence, sir. Obviously he can perceive sounds, but there appears to be a problem with how he interprets the auditory signals. For instance, he is currently under the delusion that what he is listening to qualifies as music. It's similar to the auditory delusions you have that cause you to believe you can play the guitar."
Lister drew himself up. "What are you talking about? I'm wicked at playing the guitar!"
"Exactly my point, sir."
The Cat nodded.
Lister decided to ignore them and move on. "Okay, so explain. How would you give Rimmer a new sense of hearing?"
"Quite simply. You see, in addition to Mr. Rimmer's music collection, that back-up disk we found also contained data from Red Dwarf's hologram projection suite." Kryten went to the computer and punched a few keys, bringing up the files. "We now have access to the hologram specifications for every member of the Red Dwarf crew. All we have to do is find someone who had a better taste in music than Mr. Rimmer."
"We're golden, sir. We could choose completely randomly and still have a 100% chance."
"So wait," said Lister. "You're suggesting we get rid of Rimmer and replace him with someone else? Just because we don't like his Hammond organ music?"
"Not at all. We wouldn't be replacing Mr. Rimmer. The main physical and personality attributes written into his mobile light bee hologram projector can't be altered without Holly. But what we can do is add to the program, using the crew's back-up data. Give him an auditory upgrade, so to speak."
Lister struggled to understand. "So he would be the same, but hear things differently?"
"If we enhanced his auditory program, yes. But there are all sorts of things that could be potentially improved. His vision, his reflexes, his receding hairline . . . "
"What about his cowardly weaselness?" asked the Cat.
"That, too," said Kryten. "The sky's the limit!"
"And what effect will that have on him?" asked Lister. "After we've gone in and introduced this extra stuff into his program, what would Rimmer be like?"
"No idea," said Kryten cheerfully. "But any change at all is bound to be an improvement. Shall we give it a try?"
* * *
"So let me get this straight," said Rimmer, eyeing the three of them warily. "You want to go into the software that governs my light bee -- that is to say, me -- and put in characteristics from other Red Dwarf crewmembers -- that is to say, not me -- then have those characteristics override my characteristics -- that is to say, me?"
"That's the general idea," said Kryten.
Rimmer looked at the back-up disk in the mechanoid's hand, then back to the faces of his three shipmates. "All right, when do we start?"
"Seriously?" asked Lister.
"No, of course not," said Rimmer. "The day I let you do that is the day one of your dirty socks doesn't set off the bio-hazard alarm."
"It's not like you're getting replaced," said Lister earnestly, in his best persuade-the-hologram tone of voice. "You'll still be you. It's just making a little addition to your program. Like doing an upgrade."
"An upgrade," repeated Rimmer. "That's even better. You talk as if I were nothing more than a piece of machinery. 'Oh, look, it's new and improved Rimmer, now with a better taste in music and kung-fu grip!'"
Lister rolled his eyes. "Look, we're just offering it to you as an option. If you're not interested . . ."
"And that's the point, isn't it? You're the one who wants this, not me." Lister felt a little uncomfortable, but Rimmer went on. "Face it, Listy. You've been wanting to replace me ever since Holly chose me to be the crewmember who got resurrected as a hologram. You've just finally found a way to do it."
"No, not necessarily. It's not necessarily like that," Lister countered, trying his best to sound sincere. "I just thought you might want to think about a change, that's all. Just, you know, try something different for awhile. We can always change you back if you don't like it."
"Oh, well, that's different then," said Rimmer. "In that case, I'll be sure to give it all the deep thought and consideration it deserves." He stood there, eyes on the ceiling, apparently lost in contemplation.
"Well?" asked the Cat.
"It is a tempting offer," said Rimmer. "But I'm going to have to go with . . . " he paused.
"Yes?" asked the Cat eagerly.
"No," said Rimmer.
"Are you absolutely sure, sir?" asked Kryten. "You don't want to even do one small change?"
"Come on," said Lister with resignation. "He's said no, and he means no. Let's leave him alone."
"Very well, sir," said Kryten. "It's just that I would have thought that even Mr. Rimmer could see the advantage of being able to change his physical form to add on to -- well, anything." And he gave Rimmer a pointed look. A pointed look pointing to a very particular spot on the hologram's projected hard-light body.
"Wait," said Rimmer, his voice suddenly a bit strangled. "Did you say 'add on to,' and 'anything'?"
"I did indeed, sir," said Kryten.
"Well then," said Rimmer in an entirely different tone of voice. "Let it never be said that I'm not willing to give a new idea a try."
* * *
Lister paced the common room, waiting for the first appearance of the new Rimmer. It was ridiculous, but for some reason he was actually feeling nervous about it. What would the changed Rimmer be like? Would he be the same officious, cowardly, make-you-want-to-tear-your-arm-off-and-beat-him-over-the-head-with-it smeghead? Most likely he would be -- it wasn't much of a change, after all, and maybe he'd look slightly different, but that wasn't exactly going to make a difference, was it? It's not as if Lister ever looked at that particular part of Rimmer anyway. But then, what if Rimmer did get changed by the addition to his program? And what would that mean if he did?
Lister paced some more, feeling guilty about the whole situation. What Rimmer had said was true -- in the days after Lister had found himself to be suddenly the last human alive, he had used to plead with Holly to resurrect another member of the crew in Rimmer's place. Any other member. Selby, Chen . . . even Petersen would've been a better choice, or at least more of a laugh. Yet Holly had insisted upon Rimmer, saying that despite their mutual dislike of each other -- or perhaps because of it -- Rimmer was the one person who would be able to keep Lister sane. Which was crazy, because first off, Lister didn't need anyone to keep him sane, and second, that pile of senile computer chips wouldn't know "sane" if it was at a sanity convention surrounded by people wearing nametags with the words "Hello, my name is 'sane,' this is what a sane person looks like" written on in big black letters and indelible ink.
Still, Lister had to admit that he was a little nervous that the Rimmer he'd known for so many years might suddenly be gone. But no, that wasn't going to happen, was it? It was one small little change. One small little change to a small little part of his body, and that wasn't going to make any noticeable difference. It wasn't as if Rimmer hadn't been shoving socks down in there for as long as Lister could remember anyway.
He heard the door behind him open, and then Kryten said, "Here we are, sir." He turned.
The figure standing there in the doorway looked superficially like Arnold Rimmer, but that was where the resemblance ended. He seemed taller, and his back was straighter, and he radiated both confidence and charisma, two things that Lister had thought were completely incompatible with Rimmer's basic personality. Then the figure smiled, and flicked his hair back, and took two large strides into the room to give Lister a hearty slap on the back that made him lurch forward until he could catch his balance again.
"Good to see you, Davey-boy. I know Starbug's been running well in your capable hands, but if there's anything you need me to do -- fix up the navigation modulators, or re-wire the hydropelatic manifold dampers, or throw myself out the airlock to save the crew -- just let me know. Right now I'm afraid the reprogramming has tired me out, so if you'll excuse me, I think I'll go get myself some shut-eye. Smoke me a kipper, and I'll see you at breakfast, shall I?" Then he winked, and strode back out of the room.
Lister stared after him, stunned.
"What a guy!" said Kryten.
* * *
"How?" asked Lister. "How is it possible that changing one thing in Rimmer's program has turned him into Ace?"
"I'm not sure, sir," said Kryten. "We thought that Ace Rimmer became the man he did because there was a small decision in his childhood where he went one way and our Rimmer went the other. But we may have been mistaken. Apparently the differences between them had less to do with a small decision, and more to do with a small something else."
"And that's the only change you made in him? The only one?"
"The only one."
"I knew it," said the Cat. "I always thought that size really was the most important thing. Fortunately, I'm just as gorgeous there as I am in the rest of my body. Wanna see?"
"No thanks," said Lister. "I'd really like to not learn anything more about my shipmates' genitals than I already know. And speaking of Rimmer, what are we going to do?"
"You mean, to celebrate?" asked Kryten. "Why don't I break out the urine re-cyc? It's from a week ago last Tuesday -- a very good week, if you'll recall. You had that extra madras sauce on top of the vindaloo, which ought to give the re-cyc that extra zing of tanginess you love so much."
"But we can't just leave him like this!" Lister protested. "Rimmer thought Ace was a smug, over-pompous git. He'd be horrified if he knew he'd become him."
"Well, that is a reason to bring him back," conceded Kryten, "but then we'd have to put up with him again. Honestly, I don't think it's worth losing Ace just for the chance to horrify Mr. Rimmer."
"Yeah, better a smug, over-pompous git than a smeghead, that's what I say," put in the Cat. "Besides, Ace has promised to help me organize my wardrobe. Tomorrow afternoon we're doing lavender through mauve."
Lister regarded the two of them. "So this is what you both want? For Rimmer to be gone forever?"
Kryten gave him a puzzled look. "I don't understand, sir. Isn't it what you want, too? Hasn't Mr. Rimmer been the disgusting, pus-filled blister on your otherwise happy life?"
"What would make you think that?"
"Because you told me he was the disgusting, pus-filled blister on your otherwise happy life. You've also called him the canker sore on your contentment, the herpes simplex virus on your joy in living, the . . . "
"All right, yeah," interrupted Lister. "You're right, I have said all those things." And he had. He absolutely had, and there were reasons why he had. He forced himself to remember those reasons, all the times that Rimmer had been a complete and utter smeghead, then he managed a smile. "Yeah, you're right. Sorry I've been such a wet blanket, guys. Kryten, break out that re-cyc, and let's give a toast to Ace."
* * *
It seemed to take no time at all before Ace was fully integrated into the regular daily routine with nary a mention of the man -- or rather, the weasel -- he had used to be. Lister had to admit that Ace was a hell of a guy, but he found himself missing Rimmer. He missed the way Rimmer misquoted Space Corps directives left and right and tried to order the rest of them around. He missed the way Rimmer subjected them to his ridiculous hobbies, like Hammond organ music and telegraph pole photography. He even missed Rimmer's cowardice, and smegheadedness, and the way he used to drive Lister completely up the wall.
He missed the way Rimmer used to keep him sane.
* * *
"Isn't Mr. Ace just wonderful? Today he's letting me into Mr. Rimmer's collection of epaulets so I can fold them just as I've always wanted. Oh my, Mr. Lister sir, you're looking a little glassy-eyed. Almost a Norman Bates look, if you don't mind my saying. Are you sure you're feeling all right?"
* * *
"So what's going on with Chipmunk Cheeks? I was just telling him how Ace agreed to help me add highlights to my chest hair, and he asked me if I thought we should get Ace to meet the potato people."
* * *
"Excuse me, Mr. Lister sir, but did you say you wanted wine with your curry?"
* * *
"Trying out a new look there, Davey-boy? That checked gingham dress really brings out your eyes, and I like the penguin hand-puppet, too. That knife in your other hand is an interesting accessory, and . . . oh, I see that you've plunged the knife into my chest. Well, since I'm a hard-light hologram that doesn't hurt, but I can't help wondering if there's anything you wanted to talk to me about."
* * *
Lister knew he'd been knocked unconscious, but that was about all he was aware of at the moment. He struggled to make sense of his surroundings, then slowly he realized that the sounds he could hear were Kryten and the Cat talking.
"I think he's waking up."
"Good. But just so you know, I'm out of here at the first sign of anything penguin-shaped. Blood does not go with this outfit."
"Mr. Lister? Mr. Lister sir, can you hear me?"
"Of course I can hear you, Kryten. What's been going on?" Lister opened his eyes to find himself lying on a table in the medical bay. He was wearing a pair of pajamas, and Kryten was hovering over him.
"I'm afraid you've had a mental breakdown, sir. But there's nothing to worry about. Everything's going to be all right." Those last two words were spoken with deliberate emphasis and care.
"What? What are you talking about?" Lister raised himself up on one arm. Both Kryten and the Cat took a hasty step back.
"Do you have the sedative ready?" whispered Kryten.
"Yes," said the Cat, brandishing a needle. "All ready to go into the first piece of him that so much as twitches wrong."
"Hey, steady on, just keep that thing away from me, will you?" said Lister. "Look, just tell me what's been happening."
"I'm sorry, but you had a bad reaction to Mr. Ace. We've had to take drastic action."
"Drastic action? What do you mean by 'drastic action'?"
The hologram in question came into the room. "So, the gimboid's awake?" he asked. "How typical, Lister. I'm gone for a few days and you can't even function without me. We always knew you were hanging on to sanity by the merest shred of your fingernails, but who would've thought that even you could sink so low so fast? Still, at least your bout with madness rescued me from being turned into Mr. Smug Git Full-of-Himself. I've had to use up a fair number of the vomit bags, but I've laid aside some spares if you want them."
Lister looked him up and down, taking in the lack of charisma and the return of general smegness. "Welcome back, Rimmer," he said.
"Lie mode on," said Kryten. "Yes, welcome back."
"Good to see you, buddy!" said the Cat with a fake, plastered-on smile. Then both he and Kryten hurried out of the room.
"So, where are my clothes?" asked Lister, looking around.
"Not so fast, Lister. You're not going anywhere until that poor excuse for a brain you own is no longer going off the deep end to swim with Mr. Flibble."
Lister raised himself to a sitting position and leaned back. "There's no need to worry, Rimmer. I'm fine."
Rimmer seemed about to launch into another long-winded insult when suddenly his expression changed. "You are fine, aren't you? As if you never really went insane at all."
"What?" Lister looked at him. "You don't think I really went insane? You think I was pretending, just to get you back?"
Their eyes met for a long moment. Then Rimmer said, "No, of course not. I know you wouldn't do something like that." He paused, then quietly added, "But if you were to do something like that, then I would want to say . . . thank you."
Lister smiled. "You're welcome."
There was another moment of silence, then Lister swung his legs off the table and hopped to his feet. "Now, where did you put my clothes?"
Rimmer moved to intercept him again. "Sorry, Listy, but I said you're not going anywhere, and you're not. The door's been locked by Kryten and the Cat, and you and I are spending the next 48 hours together just to make sure you're well and truly on the mend." Lister gave him a horrified look, but Rimmer just nodded and smiled broadly. "I know what you're thinking, but not to worry; I've brought along some music to entertain us. In fact, I've composed a little song that I think you'll particularly like. Ready?" He went to the computer and pressed some buttons, and then the screech of Rimmer's song began to fill the room.
If you're in trouble he will save the day,
He's brave and he's fearless, come what may . . .
Lister groaned, and tried vainly to cover his ears. "Forty-eight hours of this? Where did you say those vomit bags were again?"
Rimmer turned the music up louder.
. . . Without him the mission would go astray,
He's Arnold, Arnold, Arnold Rimmer . . .
Lister groaned some more, until he remembered that he had a spare guitar in one of the med bay lockers. If Rimmer wanted music, then he'd give him music.
"Lister! Put that thing away, you goit!"
"You're such a smeghead, Rimmer."
The sounds continued, Lister's guitar versus Rimmer's song, but fortunately the med bay's walls were soundproof and the Cat and Kryten had a very relaxing two days.